Police Interview Newsletter - Police Oral Board Blunders

Police Oral Board Blunders
Volume 1, Issue 4
April 2002


By the time that law enforcement applicants have reached the oral interview stage of the hiring process, they have generally passed a written exam, the physical agility test, and a gross background investigation. The field of applicants has been reduced by 75% or more and it is time to recommend those survivors to the Selection Board. It is a proud moment, if you have been so fortunate. You have jumped hurdles and overcome obstacles-literally! Take time to appreciate this accomplishment. Do not relax and rest on your laurels, however. Your oral interview with the Police Selection Board will be one of the most challenging aspects of the application process.

You must keep your wits about you. You need to present yourself in a professional, respectful, intelligent, mature, stable, sincere, and well-organized fashion to win the Board's approval. If you don't, you are wasting your time.

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TRUE STORIES OF APPLICANT BLUNDERS AT THE ORAL BOARD:

1. In describing his interest in police work, the applicant made the statement, "I've always wanted to be a cop." The use of the word "cop" was probably not intentionally disrespectful; however, it's often received by law enforcement officers as disrespectful and unprofessional. It suggests too much familiarity or laziness in one's word choice. Think about your language and choice of words ahead of time. Everything that you say will be analyzed and evaluated.

2. A female police applicant walked into the interview room wearing an extremely short skirt that revealed a floral tattoo on her right thigh. What in the world was this applicant thinking? Did she hope to somehow entice the male members of the Board into giving her higher marks on the interview? Let me assure you, she did get the Board's attention-but not in a good way. This applicant's sexualized presentation reflected her very poor judgment and lack of professionalism. She also lost points on not being able to follow directions. The applicants were clearly instructed to dress in conservative business attire.

3. A local police applicant who lives less than 15 miles from the department was ten minutes late for his scheduled panel interview. Barring an emergency of some kind, there is no excuse for an applicant to be late for a professional interview. A responsible person arrives 15-30 minutes early and has done his homework in regard to driving directions and exact location of the interview site. The applicant stated that he got confused about the directions and wasn't clear about where the interview was to occur. Few things are quite so irritating to law enforcement personnel staff as people who can't show up on time for the Oral Interview Board. Most police officers and sheriff deputies make it a habit to arrive 20-30 minutes prior to the start of their assigned shifts - just to be prepared and ready to roll. Many applicants may be traveling several hundred miles (from out of state) and still manage to arrive at the interview with plenty of time to spare. This impresses the law enforcement agency as responsible. Late arrival for the interview communicates poor planning, lack of discipline, and inconsideration for other people's time.

4. While serving on a police board several years ago, an officer sitting next to me asked an applicant, "How would you feel about having to take someone's life in the line of duty?" Without missing a beat, the applicant replied, "Well, I've been a deer hunter all of my life and I've never had any trouble shooting a deer." We nearly fell out of our seats! Unbelievable but true. This man had failed to make any distinction between killing a deer and taking a human life. The response was so outrageous that we didn't really need to hear anything more to conclude that this applicant was totally unsuitable for a law enforcement career. As a psychologist, it was hard not to speculate about the source or reason for such a comment. Was this man simply ignorant? Was he wanting to brag to us about his prowess as a hunter? Or, perhaps he thought it was somehow macho to deny that he might struggle emotionally if required to kill another human being.

5. A deputy sheriff applicant had successfully completed the oral board process and the subsequent polygraph examination. But, he developed a bad case of loose lips in his final interview with the sheriff. He was a transfer applicant from a neighboring jurisdiction and was required to interview with the Sheriff and Chief Jailer for final approval. This individual obviously had some hard feelings about the way he was treated by his former employer. He took it upon himself to describe the various ways in which he was "abused" by supervisors (identities provided) at his previous facility. The applicant made crude and highly critical references about these coworkers and administrators. While these remarks did not turn out to be a "deal breaker", they certainly must have raised serious questions about the applicant's judgment and professionalism. The sheriff had to be wondering, "What will this person say and do when he doesn't like some aspect of his experience at our facility?" It is simply not a great idea to slam a previous employer with the people interviewing you for a new job. To air your dirty laundry in such a way suggests poor judgment, a negative attitude, and a lack of behavioral control.

6. The "peer pressure" excuse- A police applicant, who was a recent college graduate, was being questioned about some incidents of undetected crime that he had reported on the application. When asked to explain the reasons for his involvement in campus vandalism and incidents of minor theft, he blamed his friends and fraternity brothers for pressuring him to participate. In other words, it was not his fault! He simply went along for the ride. Where is the maturity and responsibility taking in this? The board members were unfavorably impressed. Here is a person who cannot take responsibility for his actions.

7. On a Sheriff Selection Board, I asked an applicant why she had resigned from her office manager job several years previously. She quickly developed a negative and uncooperative attitude. Because she dismissed my question with a very general response, I followed up by asking the applicant whether she had experienced any interpersonal conflicts that might have contributed to her departure. At this point, the individual became irritable and defensive, insisting that there were no problems of any kind at her previous position. In so many words, this applicant was telling the interview board that she did not appreciate being questioned when asked to explain herself. She may or may not have had something to hide but the defensive stance she took with the board suggested some possible authority issues and potential supervisory problems. The interview panel members were well within their rights to closely question the applicant about ambiguities in her employment history. She apparently felt threatened, accused, or attacked with our line of questioning. An effective deputy sheriff must be able to manage the stress of close scrutiny and questioning of her job performance. This is often the nature of supervision in para-military organizations.

8. As the board members were reviewing the employment application, they learned from the personnel staff that the next applicant had been very hard to deal with in some preliminary contacts. During phone calls to the police department, the applicant had been unfairly critical of the hiring process and related to office staff in an arrogant and entitled fashion. So, before the oral interview has even begun, board members may have questions about the applicant's professionalism, reasonableness, and ability to be a team player. In the law enforcement field, where interpersonal tact and maturity are critically important, a red flag was raised for the uncooperative way in which the applicant related to police personnel. Remember: all pre-employment contacts with the law enforcement agency inform the staff about who you are and how you conduct yourself. This holds true for phone calls, brief introductory interviews, written correspondence, facility tours, and ride-a-longs. Law enforcement agencies are tightly knit organizations. Your mistakes and poor conduct, as well as positive interactions, may get passed along to those who oversee the hiring process and make the final decisions.

9. A deputy sheriff applicant presented himself for the Oral Board dressed in his security officer uniform, though he was not scheduled to go to work that day. His attitude was cocky and he made it quite clear that he already possessed "all the skills necessary" to step into the job as a deputy sheriff. This applicant's experience and work history were fairly impressive. He had worked in the loss-prevention departments for several national retailers and had been working for the past several years as a security officer in the municipality where he lived. In addition, he demonstrated good work habits and had successfully managed some challenging work situations. Interpersonally, however, this deputy sheriff applicant was very off-putting. He responded to interview questions with a superior, know-it-all attitude. He compared jail inmates to "children" who needed to be led around and told what to do. And, in responding to scenario situations this applicant clearly overstated his skills and knowledge. As a board member, it was easy to "fail" this applicant. While he possessed some decent skills, he appeared to be a supervisory nightmare. We want people who are modest about their accomplishments and open to new learning. New deputies (experienced deputies, for that matter) need to be willing to acknowledge what they don't know and to be able ask for help. Team work and the ability to relate well with inmates and coworkers is paramount.

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ASK THE EXPERTS

In this regularly appearing column, Dr. Hart and local law enforcement officers respond to frequently asked questions.

Applicant: What if I say something stupid or offensive during the oral board interview? Is there any way to recover, or have I basically ruined my chances of passing?

Dr. Hart: Everyone knows and understands that most law enforcement applicants experience high levels of anxiety and stress when appearing before the Oral Interview Board. The well prepared applicant has given great thought to potential interview questions and has probably spent several hours rehearsing the answers in her/his mind. Yet, in the heat of the moment, it is easy to misspeak or to fail to express your thoughts in the way you intended. Embarrassing situations can unfold. You may start to ramble or catch yourself making some off-the- wall statement that came from who knows where. It can be very helpful in such situations to simply stop speaking for a moment, take a deep breath to regain your balance, and then to offer a simple straight- forward apology to the Board for your lapse, error in judgment, or potentially offensive remark. To err is human.... The interviewers are interested in learning how you handle yourself in stressful circumstances. So, make use of this unexpected opportunity. Show the Board that you can (1) admit a mistake, (2) apologize for any offence or misunderstanding, and (3) move on with the interview process. If you fail to acknowledge a major error and/or to take responsibility for the mistake, the interviewers are left with many unanswered questions about you and your suitability for police work.

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